Reforming schools funding was always going to be a test of strength for Michael Gove. If today’s interview on Andrew Marr is any clue, then he’s thrown in the towel in the first round. After months of preparing plans to bypass local authorities and fund all schools directly from Whitehall, he is now claiming that the plan was always to fund through local authorities. Here’s what he said about the story:
“The Financial Times ran a report of what they thought was going to be in the white paper, fair play to them, journalists often anticipate events, but the truth is that we will be funding schools through local authorities as we do at the moment.”
Ministers can often make claims like this when stories are based on briefings from their aides and officials. Conversations are deniable. But the FT’s story was not only confirmed by the officials we spoke to. It was in a draft White Paper that we were reading back to the department. It was supported by conversations we’d had with people who had been briefed on the consequences of the changes. None of the factual elements of the piece were disputed by education officials in the week after publication.
Of course there are caveats in any such story. There was a consultation planned and a final decision was to be taken early next year. No journalist can discount the possibility that a minister will buckle at the first smell of grapeshot. But one thing is clear. Directly funding schools was Gove’s preferred model a fortnight ago, before he was overwhelmed with fierce complaints from councillors.
Just to put the record straight, we thought it might be worthwhile to publish some extra extracts of the White Paper.
1. The explanation of what is wrong with the system:
The funding of schools should be fair and transparent so that all schools are properly resourced, are able to plan and realise efficiencies and deliver the best possible education for their pupils. Fair and transparent funding is also a key driver for getting new providers to come into the schools market to open and run schools.
The funding system the Government has inherited falls well short of that ideal. Today funding is distributed unequally across England-often based on accidents of history rather than the circumstances of individual pupils. The way that the overall schools budget is divided up at national level to be passed onto local authorities, and then the way local authorities pass it on to schools, is an opaque and illogical system based on historic calculations rather than actual need. This results in similar schools, in similar circumstances and educating similar children receiving vastly different levels of funding. This is unfair to schools who manage to achieve good results for less money and unfair to pupils who, for no good reason, receive fewer resources than others. And schools who receive more money do not necessarily get better results for it so the current funding system also means poor value for money for the taxpayer.
2. The move to a national funding formula where “funding follows the pupil”:
We will end the historical inequities of school funding by introducing a single national funding formula which follows pupils from reception to year 11 from 2012-13 so that all schools will be funded on a fair and transparent basis. This includes Academies and Free Schools, and so it will be absolutely clear that there is parity in the funding of different types of school. Given the significant changes in funding many schools will experience, these changes will be introduced gradually and the transition will take place over several years.
3. The terms of the consultation — note it looks at whether local authorities should be given any discretion.
We will consult on exactly how a national funding formula should be calculated and operate. The consultation will invite views on: the factors that would be taken into consideration when developing the formula; the extent to which there would be any local discretion for local authorities and schools to adapt the formula, and how to provide the necessary transitional protection for schools as we move from the current funding system to a national funding formula. The consultation will be published in the first half of 2011, following discussion with partners.
4. And if there was any doubt over whether the local authorities would be bypassed, here is the paragraph creating the Super Quango that funnels funding directly to schools:
The Young People’s Learning Agency (YPLA) will extend their current responsibility for funding Academies and Free Schools to funding all schools becoming the Education Funding Agency from April 2013. It would administer the national funding formula to all schools directly as well as post 16 funding ensuring that the maximum amount of money goes directly to schools in a fair, transparent and equitable way. Local authorities will pass the national funding formula allocation directly to maintained schools until the Education Funding Agency comes into existence.
That last sentence is quite telling. No mention there of “funding schools through local authorities as we do at the moment” — the phrase Gove used on the Marr show. I wonder why?